30 famous people you didn’t know were college athletes
Sometimes, the level of fame afforded celebrities and college athletes can seem quite comparable. At schools where sports reign supreme and tailgates are the hottest event of the semester, the young men and women whose athletic abilities have earned them a spot on the team are campus stars. This setup, of course, also comes with complications: the lack of payment to young athletes who bring in buckets of money for their respective schools is a consistent point of contention, and college quarterbacks are often followed by unwanted student paparazzi. For some college athletes, walking across the quad to a biology lecture can feel akin to walking a red carpet.
However, there are also times when the celebrity factor does not sink in until later in life, when it’s unrelated to touchdowns, goals, or shocking upset victories. There’s no shortage of famous faces who once held athletic passions over the goals they eventually pursued; actor Patrick Dempsey, for instance, was previously a world-renowned juggler. For all the celebrities on this list, their first passion was sports, which seemingly held enough appeal to justify early morning workouts and rigorous schedules.
The celebrities on this list cover an array of industries. There are musicians, politicians, actors, writers, and reality TV stars. For some, an athletic career was a real, promising possibility that ultimately faded away due to injury or an alternate calling. Others scrapped their way onto a team and simply played for fun and the love of the sport. Read on to find out if your favorite actor, singer, or politician once sported a university jersey.
Most people know Mahershala Ali as a two-time Oscar-winning actor and some may even know him as a once-upon-a-time rapper, but few are aware of the star’s history as an NCAA Division I basketball player at St. Mary’s College of California. Ali was awarded a basketball scholarship and played four seasons as a guard, averaging seven points a game in his final year. Ali’s involvement with the sport ended with his 1996 graduation, after which he fell in love with theater during an apprenticeship and decided to attend a graduate acting program at New York University.
Joel McHale, known for his work on “Community” and “The Soup,” was well served by his acting skills long before he viewed them as a potential career path. McHale successfully spun a story about his (very limited) high school football career, and was thus accepted onto the University of Washington team as a freshman walk-on in 1992. College friends of the 6-foot-4 McHale recall that the tight end “wasn’t great,” but had plenty of drive and passion, and knew how to take a hit. It was clear even then, however, that comedy was a natural fit; McHale finally earned the other players’ respect when he performed a hilarious skit about the team doctor.